NATO agrees 'readiness plan'
Ministers agreed on Wednesday to develop a plan aimed at improving NATO's response capability following Russia's annexation of Crimea and perceived interference in other restive parts of Ukraine.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said ministers meeting in Brussels had agreed on a "readiness action plan... to respond to the changed security environment" created by the escalating conflict.
The plan is intended to provide eastern European member states with strengthened long-term support, as well as introducing new emergency exercises - without breaking the 1997 "Founding Act." The act forbids NATO or Russia from making threatening deployments in former Warsaw Pact countries and freed Soviet Republics, something they both already accuse each other of doing.
As part of the response plan, Germany, Denmark and Poland are to improve the readiness of their joint NATO corps in the Polish city of Szczecin.
Growing spending gap
Rasmussen said that, while Russia had increased its military spending by 50 percent in the last five years, NATO had cut funding by 20 percent in the same period.
He also welcomed the "American leadership in taking reassurance measures," after President Obama, while visiting Poland on Tuesday, said he would ask US Congress for up to $1 billion (735 million euros) of funding to boost the US military presence in eastern Europe.
"The United States has reacted swiftly after Russia's illegal military actions in Ukraine," Rasmussen told defense ministers. "And I appreciate that other allies have followed so that we can announce that all 28 allies are now contributing to reassurance measures."
Germany is among several nations that may be asked to increase military spending. The country currently spends about 1.3 percent of GDP on its armed forces, but still ranks third among the European NATO allies in terms of military spending.
Rather than pledge a greater percentage of GDP on defense, Germany's defense minister Ursula von der Leyen said that the emphasis should be on the more efficient use of funds already set aside.
rc/lw (dpa, AFP, dpa, Reuters)